Katherine submitted the following question:
I have always wondered about research behind the topic of being friends with benefits (with strict rules of no kissing, no hugging, just sex, and only sex), and if they have the same benefits as sex within a committed relationship based off of love and trust, instead of lust?
Thanks for this great question! It sounds to me like what you’re really asking is whether sex between “friends with benefits” is as good as the sex that two people in a committed romantic relationship might have. I recently published a study in the Journal of Sex Research that addressed this exact question.1 We recruited nearly 400 men and women over the Internet who either had a current “friend with benefits” or a romantic partner. All participants completed a survey that asked how sexually satisfied they were in their relationship and how much they communicated with their partner about a variety of sexual topics.
We found that, on average, people in both types of relationships reported being highly satisfied in the bedroom; however, sexual satisfaction levels were significantly higher among participants in romances. This tells us that sex with a friend with benefits can certainly be very good, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as satisfying as sex with a romantic partner. Why is that? One possibility is that friends with benefits aren’t as comfortable telling their partner what they want. Consistent with this idea, our study revealed that romantic partners reported higher levels of sexual communication compared to friends with benefits. In particular, romantic partners were more likely to say that they (1) talk about sex frequently, (2) discuss their sexual needs and desires, and (3) establish sexual boundaries. Romantic partners were also more likely to have talked about contraception and sexually transmitted infections. Together, all of these things are likely to make sex a little more satisfying in the context of romances because the partners have more freedom to talk about what they want and enjoy and can put more of their sexual fears and concerns at ease.
Thus, when it comes to sex, romance does seem to have its benefits. Again, this is not to say that sex between friends is bad or isn’t enjoyable—in fact, people report that it is quite the opposite! Rather, the point that you should take away from this is that with better communication comes better sex.
To read more about the value of communication in the bedroom, check out Panting, And Moaning, And Screaming, Oh My! Why Noisy Sex Is Better Sex on The Psychology of Human Sexuality blog.
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1Lehmiller, J. J., VanderDrift, L. E., & Kelly, J. R. (in press). Sexual communication, satisfaction, and condom use behavior in friends with benefits and romantic partners. The Journal of Sex Research.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.